Diabetes – patient handout

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What is diabetes?

Diabetes means your body isn’t producing enough insulin or cannot use it properly.

The food we eat is broken into sugar and released into the bloodstream. When the blood sugar level rises, the pancreas releases a hormone – insulin. Insulin enables sugar entry into cells, where it is used to produce energy.

Diabetes affects metabolism. Your body cannot use insulin properly. As a result, too much blood sugar stays in your bloodstream when there isn’t enough insulin or cells stop responding to it. Over time, diabetes may lead to severe health conditions like heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

There is no cure for diabetes, but the most prevalent and effective interventions are weight loss, a healthy diet, and physical activity.

Clinicians distinguish three main types of diabetes: 

  • type 1 (autoimmunological cause)
  • type 2 (lifestyle cause)
  • and gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy)

Symptoms of diabetes

Developing diabetes may not give symptoms for years, so it is important to have regular blood sugar tests. But, it may manifest with the following symptoms:

  • frequently urinate, even at night
  • feel very thirsty
  • feel very hungry
  • feel tired
  • lose weight without attempts
  • have vision problems
  • have numb or tingling hands or feet
  • have rough and dry skin
  • have sores healing slowly
  • catch more infections than usual

Diabetes risk factors

The autoimmune reaction causes type 1 diabetes. The body attacks its cells by mistake. The risk factors are unknown, but a family history of type 1 diabetes and young age may help predict the disease.

Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes risk factors are well defined. You are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes when you:

  • have prediabetes (a risk factor for diabetes type 2)
  • are overweight
  • are 45 years old or older
  • have a family member with diabetes 2
  • do not exercise a minimum of three times per week
  • ever had a gestational diabetes
  • had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

You can prevent diabetes type 2 development via a healthy lifestyle: losing weight while overweight, eating a healthy diet, and regular physical activity.

You are at risk of gestational diabetes (during pregnancy) when all the above and:

  • having gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
  • gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • have more than 25 years
  • have a polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Gestational diabetes ends when you give birth but increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes within the next 15 years. Your child is also at higher risk of being obese or having diabetes as a child or teen and developing it later in life.

What are the treatment options for diabetes?

Treatment options for diabetes depend on the type of diabetes and the severity of the disease.

Healthy lifestyle

Physical activity and weight loss improve insulin sensitivity in people with diabetes. Thus maintaining a healthy blood sugar enhances mood and boosts energy. Doctors recommend a healthy lifestyle for patients with all diabetes types. 

A healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise are crucial in managing type 2 diabetes. Especially patients who lose much weight and are in the first stages of the disease can control their condition with a healthy lifestyle alone.

Also, healthy habits are the primary treatment for gestational diabetes. In gestational diabetes, glycemic control is most important to ensure blood glucose levels are within limits. Following diabetic diet rules is crucial for the proper course of pregnancy.


There are oral and injectible medicines. Oral drugs include metformin – the mainstay drug in diabetes therapy. Drugs such as incretin are administered via injection.

Insulin is the primary diabetes treatment for type 1 diabetes. However, when diet and oral medication do not give the desired effect, doctors recommend insulin for other types of diabetes.

Insulin is usually taken by injection, although insulin pumps have gained popularity.

What is the future plan?

If you take insulin injections, the daily frequency will depend on your insulin type. 

An insulin pump contains one type of insulin. It is set to deliver insulin throughout the day to the body continuously. Around meals, the patient sets an increased insulin dose to provide the amount of insulin needed to metabolize the meal.

Monitoring blood sugar levels is essential for every patient taking insulin and may be helpful for other patients. Testing sugar levels help you understand how meals affect blood sugar levels and make better dietary decisions.

Blood ketone body tests detect ketone bodies in the blood, which means blood sugar levels are too high. If ketone bodies are present, the patient may be at risk of ketoacidosis – one of the acute complications of diabetes.

Where can I get more help?

Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your family doctor. He can order blood tests and direct you to the diabetologist. Check also CDC online resources and cukrzycapolska.pl.

Martyna Piotrowska


What is diabetes? | CDC

Diabetes and Prediabetes | CDC


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